It’s well-documented by now that I am a huge fan of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. I’m also a massive fan of Emily Blunt. The two joined forces for Disney’s latest action adventure “Jungle Cruise” based on *sigh* one of the oldest and (to some) beloved attractions in the Disney parks.
Rides = Movies?
It seems the Mouse is bound and determined to make all of their attractions into movies following the success of Pirates of the Carribean, but as anyone who has seen Haunted Mansion or the TV movie Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror knows that lightning has yet to strike twice. When the first trailers dropped, I had mixed feelings about what the film might be. They had a great cast, they had a great design, but what could the story possibly be when the source material is a boat ride around a lagoon filled with animatronic animals and people and punctuated by terrible “dad jokes”. I have a pretty good imagination, but even as I pushed play on Disney+, I still had no idea what to expect.
And I’m happy to report I was pleasantly surprised.
The Adventure Begins
Dr. Lily Houghton (Blunt) is seeking assistance to launch an expedition into the Amazon jungle to find the fabled Tears of the Moon tree that she believes could revolutionize modern medicine in World War 1. When she and her brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) get laughed out of the Royal Society of Explorers, Lily stumbles upon and steals an ancient arrowhead believed to be the key to finding the Tree. Also seeking the arrowhead is Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons), a German aristocrat with a penchant for violence and murder. The two tango before Lily escapes with MacGregor and make their way to South America.
River boat cruise skipper Frank Wolff (The Rock) spends his days taking tourists around his shotty and carnival-esque river tour, complete with corny jokes, hokey special effects, but culminating with the greatest bit of both the ride and the movie: the backside of water! It’s clear he’s a bit of a con-man doing what he can to get by. He’s harassed by Nilo (Paul Giamati) and his engine gets repossessed, he finds himself in need of a quick $5000 (in 1916 money, too; *whistles*). Enter Lily and MacGregor, followed by an encounter with a jaguar, and the sudden appearance of a U-Boat in the harbor and we are off and running down the Amazon river for the treasure of many lifetimes.
Pros and Cons List
The story ended up being pretty great, though it seems the aspects of the park ride were a jumping off point for a surprisingly interesting adventure tale. Johnson and Blunt work well together, but lack the romantic chemistry the film presents for them. Had this been a simple adventure with two equally respected people rather than the “will they/won’t they” romance, I think it would have been far more effective. Blunt has already proven herself as an action star in Edge of Tomorrow and the Quiet Place films among others, and this role presents her as something of an Indiana Jones-type. Why not just have a tale of Indiana Jones and Humphrey Bogart’s Charlie Allnut from The African Queen, the visual template at least for Johnson’s Wolff? The character of MacGregor is essentially set-dressing and his character development feels like woke fan-service rather than actual development and really only functions to make Wolff look more progressive than to do anything for MacGregor himself.
The conflict with Prince Joachim added suspense and continued the Indiana Jones-vibe, and, of course, Plemons is phenomenal as always. I also wish I had seen this in the theaters because the special effects were painfully noticeable on my four-year-old Roku TV.
I would like to ask someone at Disney why their movies have to be over two hours long. Like that was a memo they sent out five years ago and everyone is meant to accept it as law. This could have been a BANGING 90-100 minute jungle adventure. Instead, we got a pretty good movie that could have had some fat trimmed off.
All in all, Jungle Cruise is a fun movie with a cool legend that unfortunately tries too hard to do too much.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Snack Packs
Lincoln L. Hayes is an actor and writer living in NYC. He’s adding director to his resume this fall in the Open Hydrant Theater Company’s Short Play Festival in the Bronx. Find more on his website www.lincolnlhayes.com.